Surface tension

Bird Seeds Flora, Alena Hennessy
“Bird Seeds Flora,” Alena Hennessy

Local collective Plenish Projects numbers nine emerging artists — and women comprise only a third of their ranks. Member Lauren Gibbes admits the men in the group growled when the three women announced they were having an all-girl show — but, she says, they’ve since come around and are being supportive.

Titled Sparklepower, the exhibit itself is likewise amiable — lighthearted and entertaining. At least on the surface.

Alena Hennessy, a newcomer from Miami Beach, makes small square paintings of fauns, birds and bunnies. Her soft creatures, quietly executed in innocent colors and the simplest of shapes, symbolize our unrealistic idealization of nature. The surfaces are deep and shiny, some decorated with red and pink glass beads.

Kewpie mogul Lisa Shenouda never fails to challenge. Well known for her whimsical-but-disturbing doll photos, Shenouda here exhibits video and sculpture. One work is an almost totally abstract piece called “4:4 Seasons,” and the other video is titled “Suburban Nightmares,” a series of deeply funny vignettes about the problems of the contemporary housewife. The “Nightmares” speak to issues of gender, and in a wider sense, to our societal value systems: They begin with some benign activity and deteriorate into near-madness. (Shenouda’s collaborator for “Nightmares”‘ musical component is Thomas Johnson — the exhibit’s only male influence.)

Mind Control II, Lauren Gibbes
“Mind Control II,” Lauren Gibbes

Meanwhile, Gibbes’ work continues to evolve. Her juxtapositions of pop-culture icons are always engaging, her skill as a painter is outstanding — but the context she brings to her work is what sets her free. Gibbes’ “Mind Control II” presents a gloriously conditioned American Saddlebred horse posed in an artificial stance: head high, body stretched unnaturally, with back legs positioned far back from his hindquarters. Next to the horse, a young woman with the same chestnut-colored hair confronts the viewer, arms raised, hands rearranging the hair, ample breasts barely enclosed in a skimpy chemise. The irony is subtle enough to engage the viewer, but not so obtuse as to confuse and lose its meaning.

Gibbes also shows sculpture. Her work in this medium consists of found objects, commercial ceramic creations plucked from junk stores and re-contextualized. Here again, as in Hennessy’s work, innocent birds and bunnies fumble into prominence. A life-sized, rather angry-looking Christ figure sits atop a strip of bright-green Astroturf mounted on a pink shelf. Jesus scrutinizes three rabbits and a singing bird. The figures are painted a flat white and sprinkled with glitter; the open mouth of the bird is bright pink. In these works, as in the paintings, Gibbes’ concomitance is what counts.

The participating artists have assembled a small retail section of handmade clothing and various household items to attract the outer-limits holiday shopper — but the real reason to see this show is for three confident young women who know who they are and what they’re about.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work can be seen next at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]

Sparklepower: New Work by Lauren Gibbes, Alena Hennessy and Lisa Shenouda shows at Wedge Gallery (115-B Roberts St., in the River Arts District) by appointment (252-2819 or 683-6781) through Friday, Dec. 30.

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